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Assaultive Behavior by Michigan Prisoners Subject to Aggressive Prosecution

To stop Michigan state prisoners from throwing food, feces or bodily fluids on guards--or exposing themselves--a new Officer Dignity Initiative has been created through a partnership between the Prosecuting Attorney Association of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), the Michigan State Police (MSP) and the union that represents prison employees, the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO).

The initiative is backed by a new state law that makes it a felony punishable by up to five years when prisoners engage in the sort of assaultive behavior that guards refer to as being “dressed out.”

After MCO reported 526 prisoner-on-guard assaults in 2015, the partnership announced the Officer Dignity Initiative in early 2016. Signs were posted in February 2017 to warn prisoners that “any willful attempt or threat to inflict injury”--including “dressing out” any prison employee or contract employee--was now a five-year felony, while also promising to refer violators to the Michigan State Police.

“Being ‘dressed out’ is not something that should ever be considered part of the job. It is a crime and one that robs our employees of their dignity,” said MDOC Deputy Director Ken McKee. “Our staff members need to know that when they are assaulted, we will do everything possible to ensure the case is handled correctly so that it can be turned over to MSP with the goal of seeing a prosecution.”

To further that goal, MDOC inspectors underwent training in October 2016, studying how to process crime scenes after guards are assaulted with bodily fluids, how to handle evidence collection and how to document their findings.

The MDOC and MSP are partnering to improve responses to and prosecutions of “dressing out” incidents, which they said could expose employees to infection or diseases while also leaving them feeling violated.

In March 2017, Ionia Correctional Facility prisoner Dustin Woodruff, 29, became the first person prosecuted under the new law after squirting urine on a guard. He had also collected 126 disciplinary “tickets” for sexual misbehavior. MDOC records showed Woodruff previously was convicted in 2015 of another assault on a prison employee.

“Sir, your record is atrocious,” Ionia County 8th Circuit Court Judge Ronald Schafer told Woodruff.

Schafer imposed a sentence of 24 months to five years for an assault charge and a concurrent sentence of 16 months to two years for a related charge of indecent exposure. The sentences will run consecutive to Woodruff’s current sentence.

Ionia County Prosecutor Kyle Butler said the Officer Dignity Initiative addressed Woodruff’s sort of harassment as well as “an extreme amount of sexual misconduct,” all of which had left prison staff “emotionally hurt” if not physically harmed.

“That’s the whole idea behind this Initiative,” Butler said, “to send a message to the defendant that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

Just before the signs went up to warn prisoners about the new penalties, MCO released a video in January 2017 to outline the initiative for guards and other staff. MCO Vice President and Chief of Staff Andy Potter praised the video for capturing “all the great work MCO and the coalition did to shed light on the hidden realities and difficulties of corrections work.”

There is no corresponding initiative to prosecute prison staff for acts of violence against prisoners, however, including sexual assaults and excessive use of force. 

Sources: Detroit Free Press, www.clickondetroit.com


 

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